You are what you eat. Or are you what’s eating you?
I have been thinking about self-identification. What makes up our identities. How we choose to see ourselves, and how it feeds our choices and behaviors.
I think there must be something in the air. Friends of mine have been mentioning to me their own struggles and triumphs with identity. And over the past two weeks, I have been confronted by some decisions I made about myself that I would like to reconsider. And I have been working to get them disentangled from my identity.
I have a lot of experience with this.
Being fat was a major part of my identity when I was growing up. It was given to me by my family long before I was aware of it. It was given to me so young, that by the time I came to the age where I could make decisions about who I wanted to be, “fat” was not an “option,” it was an “incontrovertible truth.”
This idea of not only me being fat, but of fat being me, led to a lot of the lifestyle choices I made. Not just around food. But also around grooming and clothing and general self-care.
I didn’t care/I was above being a slave to fashion. That was the stance I took on my appearance. At least that was the image I wished to project. I wore all of my clothes too big. I often dressed like a boy. I wore pants all the time. If I did wear a dress, I wore jeans under it. I grew my hair out and never got it cut. I stayed indoors as much as possible and hated the sun. (I know! I hated the sun?!?! What was up with that?)
But I did care. I wore big clothes to hide my body. I wore heavy makeup because I was afraid I was ugly. Not getting my hair cut became part of my non-conformist identity. And I avoided at all costs any scenario where shorts or bathing suits were involved. It was not the sun I hated, but the idea of showing my flesh.
I had this idea that I could never be anything but fat. So even the handful of times I lost some weight, I didn’t have any confidence in keeping it off. That would be the opposite of who I was. Having “fat” as an identity also led me to make all sorts of excuses about why I couldn’t do what needed to be done to lose weight. It’s genetic. I’m just a person who was born not liking vegetables. Diets don’t work for me. I’m not the kind of person who does things like count calories. I can’t eat rabbit food. I’m just hungry all the time.
When I got my eating under control, I was so focused on the very clear and specific boundaries I set around my eating, that I didn’t have to confront these garrisoned identity outposts until they had been substantially weakened. All I had to do was eat my three meals a day within my set of clearly defined rules.
That has become my new identity. Eating three meals a day within my boundaries. Being a woman who has her eating disorders under control. It is an identity that I am proud to have. It works for me.
There is another result of this way of life, and that is the ability to recognize and let go of identities that don’t work for me anymore. In other words, part of this identity, is to be less caught up in my identities. For example: being a smoker, being a morning-to-night coffee drinker, being a girl who wears makeup, being too cold/protected to fall in love. All of these were major parts of my identity that I was willing to give up because they didn’t work anymore.
There are two identities that I find myself shifting lately.
The first is about being sexy. Or more specifically, what kind of sexy I am.
I’m a sexy woman. I know that. (Even 30 lbs heavier than I prefer.) And I like having “sexy” as part of my identity. But recently I have been thinking about what kind of sexy woman I am. And if I’d like to be a different kind of sexy.
Lately, I have been finding myself drawn to more classic styles. Fitted cuts and cleaner lines. A linen dress. A crisp white button down. A pencil skirt. A fit and flare. A boyfriend cardigan. These are things I shied away from in the past. Somehow, I decided that they didn’t fit some decision I made about myself. Now I think that idea is outdated. For me. And I want to give it up.
I’m not saying I will be giving up my strapless mini-dresses this summer. Or My leggings and knee-high boots this fall. But my heels are already getting shorter and I am interested in making room for something new. In my identity and my closet.
And the other thing that I am making room for is writing as my calling and career. And this one goes a little deeper. It took some action and some healing to be able to change this self-imposed identity.
In the early 2000s, I was a writer. The funny thing is that I didn’t know it. I not only wrote two versions of a play that went to the stage in New York and San Diego, but I was writing freelance for an online newsletter, and doing side writing jobs for a handful of individuals. But I did not think of myself as a writer.
There was something I had as part of my identity. It was something like “unworthy.” Or “unreliable.” Or some other version of “not good enough.” I had this idea about myself from the beginning (possibly, the beginning of time). Couple that with being in the throes of my food addiction, and that was exactly how I behaved: unworthy, unreliable and not good enough. I proved myself to be what I had always feared I was, and took that on as a personal truth. I spent the next ten plus years with the identity that I did not have what it takes to make it as a writer.
This past few weeks I have been applying for writing jobs. I was communicating with a potential employer, and in an email, I mentioned that I used to write freelance health articles. But I realized that wasn’t on my resume. And when I asked myself why, it was because I ended that job like a jerk. I was given a writing assignment much like a slew of previous assignments. I was supposed to set up an interview with an expert on some health and wellness subject, and then write an article. I don’t remember who the expert was, or the topic I was supposed to write about. Either way, I never did it. And I was so deep in my food addiction, and its accompanying shame, fear and paralysis, that I never contacted the editor, never apologized, never made it right. I just disappeared, and let my freelance writing job go with it. And in doing that, I made a decision about my identity that I didn’t even recognize until today. I am not dedicated or reliable enough to be a writer. I can’t be counted on to follow through as a writer.
Even though that was who I was in 2003, that is not who I am today. After over nine years of food sobriety, I am most certainly reliable, worthy, and good enough. I can absolutely be counted on. I have made my integrity a priority in my life.
This afternoon I searched on Facebook and I found the woman who had been my editor. I sent her a private message asking for her forgiveness, and what, if anything, I can do to make right what I did in disappearing on her. I certainly hope that she gets back to me. But no matter what, in pinpointing the decision I had made about my identity, and the behavior that created it, and in offering an amends for my wrongdoing, I was able to shake something loose and get myself a little more free.
I believe that amends are the kind of thing that can shift your whole life. This one, whether or not it is accepted, has already let me get complete with myself, and remove an identity that has been holding me back for over a decade.